Long and Winding Road

It took nearly 18 years to create this modern-day tribute to the NART Spyder.

Photo: Long and Winding Road 1
April 14, 2022

Although Bob Funari owns an impressive collection of Ferraris and other exotic cars, he, like so many of us, yearned for something more. That desire led him to the car you see here—after a challenge-filled journey that spanned several shops, serious expense, and more than a decade.

A Ferrari NART Spyder is essentially an automotive unicorn. After all, as described in issue #195’s “Rare Beauty,” only ten were built, and just two were bodied in aluminum. Funari, a mechanical engineer in the healthcare field, appreciated the model’s exclusivity, history, and appearance, and decided to build an impeccable reproduction, using later-model Ferrari components with a few concessions to modernity. All told, the result is a re-creation surprisingly close to the original, although its owner always represents the car as a one-off build.

About that history: Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART for short) was once one of the most distinguished teams in motorsport, renowned both for its Ferraris and extensive roster of drivers that included the likes of Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, and the Rodriguez brothers.

Chinetti also served as Ferrari’s first U.S. distributor, and the NART Spyder was born of heated disputes between him and Enzo Ferrari. Chinetti and son Coco wanted a more sporting convertible than the then-current 275 GTS, and eventually worked directly with Sergio Scaglietti to create a roofless version of the 275 GTB/4, available exclusively for sale in the U.S. While the factory gave little recognition to this privately created variant, the exquisite creation would ultimately become one of the most desirable Ferraris ever built.

After being raced at Sebring by Denise McCluggage and Pinky Rollo, the first NART Spyder was repainted burgundy—it was originally a light pale yellow—and delivered to Steve McQueen on the set of The Thomas Crown Affair for a brief cameo. (The actor later bought a different example for his personal use.) Road & Track later drove and described the Sebring machine as “the most satisfying sports car in the world.” A new star had been born.

Photo: Long and Winding Road 2

Actually, Funari had started his unicorn hunt in search of a different movie star: a 250 GT California (coincidentally made famous on the big screen by a very different film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). But when he came across this car, then a problematic project, in 2003, he quickly recognized its remarkable potential and switched horses midstream. As he would find out, however, building a car essentially from scratch isn’t quick, easy, or inexpensive.

THE NOW-DEFUNCT Fine Sports Cars of La Jolla, California began the NART Spyder build in November 2003 with an ’85 400i donor, removing the Ferrari’s bodywork and cutting down its chassis to accept an aluminum reproduction NART Spyder body of unknown origin. The project then moved on to Peter Tomashevski in Culver City, who continued working on the car for a couple of years.

In 2007, Robert Bartlett of Matrix Concepts in San Marcos, California took over the project. Unfortunately, progress would continue to be slow, as Bartlett already had a full slate of other projects and the replica NART Spyder was squeezed in when time allowed.

Over the course of the next seven years, Bartlett spent considerable time fitting the aluminum body to the modified 400i chassis, a process which required him to fabricate custom billet aluminum suspension and stainless-steel tubular headers. He also sourced and installed the Borrani wheels, four-wheel Wilwood disc brakes, and engine cooling system, including an aluminum radiator. Finally, Bartlett rebuilt the 400i’s V12 and sourced the Weber carbs that would replace the original Bosch fuel injection.

While undeterred by the lengthy process, Funari eventually decided to move the project to a shop in Long Beach run by Manuel Martinez, who would make sure the bodywork was a exact reproduction of the original’s. Martinez, assisted by Aurelio Dominquez, would spend another 15 months refining the NART re-creation’s shape.

Photo: Long and Winding Road 3

“Manuel spent a lot of time on aluminum and paint,” Funari recalled. “He’s a real master.”

To match the very first NART Spyder’s original Giallo Solare hue, over a two-month period Martinez applied Sunfire Yellow from the 1967 Corvette palette. He then block-sanded and buffed the single-stage paint for a brilliant finish.

During this time, Funari changed his mind about using the Weber-carbureted 400i engine. Since the 275 GTB was the first Ferrari with a transaxle, he reasoned, a V12 donor that left the factory with a transaxle was the way to go. So Funari went on the hunt for a 550 Maranello drivetrain.

Restorer Norbert Hofer of Grand Touring in Long Beach found a 2002 donor, but it would not be a “plug and play” installation. On the mechanical side, the newer V12’s oil sump had to be modified to fit in the 275’s engine bay. Then the chassis needed alteration to receive the transaxle, the front suspension had to be re-engineered to accommodate the longer engine, and a custom driveshaft had to be built. All of this was handled by Martinez.

In addition, Hofer pulled off the 550’s intake plenums and replaced them with V8 throttle bodies from an F355, then added an aftermarket Motech ECU. Rywire Motorsports Electronics then converted the throttle bodies to work with custom electronic injectors and got the engine running, albeit with some apprehension from Funari.

Photo: Long and Winding Road 4

“I had my fingers crossed,” he admitted. After all, “The system was from a parted-out car—would it work?”

It did, and Funari was further relieved when the stock 550 headers bolted right into place. But there were still many details left to sort out. Martinez sourced and/or restored all of the trim pieces, lights, and bumpers, while GTO Engineering supplied an original 275 steering column.

For the cockpit, Hofer located some authentic 275 seat frames. Other items, such as the door panels, were not available and had to be made from scratch. It turned out that Pantera armrests are very similar to the Ferrari units, so those were used instead.

“The windshield was in terrible shape,” Funari added. “I had the glass redone.”

To accurately finish off the car, Funari carefully scrutinized real NART Spyders wherever he could find them, taking detailed photographs at concours and auctions. At the Gooding’s Pebble Beach sale in 2005, for example, he spotted a yellow NART Spyder that sold at a cool $4 million.

Photo: Long and Winding Road 5

“I thought that was a ton of money for the car!” Funari said. In the time since, of course, prices have gone much higher, including RM Auctions’ 2013 sale of a different example for $27.5 million. By comparison, Funari felt his own ongoing pricey project was a real bargain, so he forged ahead.

In 2021, Funari took the car to Vlado Jancev of V’s Performance, who had already groomed several high-performance cars in his collection. Tasked with creating a simpler, cleaner look under the hood and ensuring the car would run smoothly and reliably, Jancev re-plumbed the cooling system, sorted out the wiring in the engine bay with different plug leads, and redid the Borrani wheels. He then remounted the battery in the right rear corner of the trunk, away from the front inner fenders, and fabricated a false floor to cover both it and the gas tank. Jancev also spent about six weeks tweaking the exhaust system and modifying the throttle bodies.

ONCE COMPLETED, the NART reproduction debuted at the 2020 Concorso Italiano, and was also shown at The Quail and, later, San Marino Motor Classic. Funari was startled by spectators’ reactions.

“When we offloaded it at The Quail, people thought it was an original!” he noted. “But, obviously, they hadn’t looked under the hood.” 

According to Funari, Ferrari expert Tom Hill, collection manager for Rare Wheels, was almost sure he was looking at the authentic item. But then he spotted two giveaways: the 15-inch Borrani wheels—the originals were 14s—and the modern six-speed shifter gate. Nonetheless, said Funari, Hill was suitably impressed, exclaiming, “This is amazing, so close to original!”

Photo: Long and Winding Road 6

For his part, Funari feels the NART Spyder re-creation is even better than the original, at least in some ways, such as the EFI, Wilwood disc brakes (with six- and four-piston calipers), and, best of all, the Maranello motor.

“It delivers 485 hp, while the original had 330,” he pointed out. “And the transaxle is a six speed versus five.”

While Funari is immensely satisfied with the car, there are still a few little things left to be done. For example, Jancev will be fitting a different crank sensor so that the engine will rev through its full range to 7,500 rpm. The authentic 275 gauges need to be married to the 550 engine, which will require building an interface. The stiff brake pedal action will be lightened by adding a small booster.

Given the expense and years of effort involved, as well the delicate aluminum bodywork, Funari is understandably cautious when he takes the car out for some exercise. 

“People run up to it like bees to honey,” he said, laughing. “It’s a great collector piece, and has nice place here at the garage.”

Unfortunately, the car suffered a minor mishap at San Marino when another exhibitor accidentally backed into the nose, leaving a golf-ball sized dent. Mortified, the other exhibitor immediately offered to cover any repair expenses—and was later shocked to hear it only cost $675 for Martinez to repair the damage!

Funari describes his creation as exceptionally responsive, with a lively, vintage feel that delivers a satisfyingly nostalgic experience. On the other hand, its power-to-weight ratio delivers acceleration that bests some later-model cars in his collection. The car’s ride is firm but comfortable, while the Wilwood brakes are comfortable capable of dealing with the speeds it can achieve.

Despite having to overcome a number of engineering challenges, working through all the little things, finding all the correct parts, and sometimes wanting to give up as costs climbed, Funari feels the project makes good sense. After all, he now has a NART Spyder tribute to call his very own, a superb reproduction with performance the original could only dream of.

Also from Issue 198

  • 296 GTB first drive
  • 308 GTS restomod
  • Rarities: J50
  • Ferrari's first World Championships
  • Petersen's annual Ferrari Cruise-In
  • F1: Red Dawn
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